U.S. Women Are Dying Younger Than Their Mothers, and I Have a Few Theories Why

The Atlantic posted a blog entry yesterday entitled, “U.S. Women Are Dying Younger Than Their Mothers, and No One Knows Why.” It discussed, alongside a map, that women are projected to live shorter and perhaps lower-quality lives than their mothers across the United States. Both the author and researchers expressed utter confusion as to why women weren’t living as long in certain areas of the country, since they found no meaningful pattern. I think I’ve found a pattern in the data.

I highly suggest you read The Atlantic’s blog post before continuing on with this one. A third party researcher has a couple of ideas about why women are dying younger, but doesn’t state anything geographically conclusive:

Jennifer Karas Montez, a social demographer who studies health inequalities, co-authored a study that was the first to investigate how quality of life might be playing a role in the early deaths of female high-school dropouts. Montez found that while smoking accounts for half of the decline in life expectancy among these women, whether or not a woman has a job is equally significant. “Women without a high-school degree have not made inroads in the labor force, especially in post-recession America,” Montez said in an interview. In fact, only one-third of women without a high-school diploma are employed, compared to half of their male counterparts, and nearly three-quarters of better-educated women. When they are employed, Montez said, it is usually in low-wage jobs that offer no benefits or flexibility. Smoking and other destructive behaviors, she added, may just be symptoms of the heightened stress and loneliness experienced by women who don’t graduate from high school.

Let’s take a look at the University of Wisconsin’s mortality map, which describes how different mortality rates are between this generation of women and the last by county:

Now, take a look at an urban classification map by county, which ranges from rural to urban:

Women are dying young due to their lifestyles and based upon choices made associated with their location. Here’s a couple of ideas why:

  • People in general- not just women- are more likely to walk if there’s something to walk to. It’s not rocket science: if you’re 20 miles away from the grocery store, you won’t simply be popping out for a pint of heavy cream on a whim. Walking as the single transportation mode for a trip and walking to a public transit stop or station is one of the big ways cities trump rural areas if you’re looking to encourage a pedestrian lifestyle.
  • Emergency services are key to saving lives in peril. While rural areas and cities enjoy an equal emergency response time, cities have vastly quicker transport to primary care facility times.
  • Political ties to access to specialized women’s health clinics and advocates. It’s relatively common knowledge that, most of the time, cities in the US vote democratic whereas rural areas are more likely to vote republican. Cities are more likely to have specialized women’s health clinics. Both ease of access and potential variety of choices may be the difference between a woman finding a detrimental health hazard early or too late. Check out this map of the results of the 2012 election by county and notice how the democratic counties line up with the urban counties:
  • Perceived and real options for life after high school. Women in rural areas too often believe that their only options after high school are to either have a baby or go to college. The split is more even than you may believe. Both options are expensive, but one is decidedly more stressful than the other. Educated women are more likely to feel good about themselves and empowered. Having a child without the right financial foundation can be monumentally stressful, thus already degrading one’s health at a young age. If a teenage girl lives in the city, however, she is more likely to see more options: artists, TV producers, writers, architects, engineers, college professors and more. The world is much bigger to a child in the city than to a child in a rural area- I can personally attest to that.
  • Social norms about healthcare. Rural areas are more likely to contain folks that believe the government is against them in some way. Perhaps, in a rural area, a woman is more likely to be told to “suck it up” as a child whenever she got hurt rather than a parents attending to it or going to a doctor. That mindset could stick with them for the rest of their life and they might ignore small symptoms to a much bigger problem.

Why do you think women are dying younger? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook or Twitter page to the left!


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